Bills to put back transition introduced

Congressional efforts to delay the long-planned Feb. 17 transition to digital broadcasting are gaining steam.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Va.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) have introduced bills that would delay the switch until June 12. Obama administration officials last week called on Congress to delay the transition, saying that the federal effort to prepare consumers for the switch had been insufficient and underfunded. The concerns grew after it was revealed earlier this month that the government program set up to provide $40 voucher coupons to help offset the cost of the digital converter boxes needed for older TV sets had run out of money and still had millions of people on a waiting list.

The major nets have come out in favor of a delay, given the potential for lost viewership. It’s estimated that about 8 million households are unprepared and would lose access to broadcast TV after the switch.

“I firmly believe that our nation is not ready to make this transition yet,” Rockefeller said in a statement. He also had a jab at the Bush administration for having “mis-managed” the process.

The new legislation would provide more coin for coupons, outreach efforts and increased staffing of call centers to handle questions from consumers after the switch is thrown.

Some Republicans have come out against a delay, saying it would only confuse viewers who have been told in on-air PSAs and other info efforts for months that the switch is coming on Feb. 17.

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